Nilda “Nena” Peragallo Montano, a trailblazing academic who has dedicated her career to improving the health status of minorities and other medically underserved groups and who led UNC students as they played a role in combatting the pandemic, is retiring as dean of the UNC School of Nursing.
Peragallo Montano became the school’s seventh dean in January 2017; a statement from the University said that she had agreed to remain in the position while a committee conducts a national search for her successor. Angela Kashuba, dean of UNC’s Eshelman School of Pharmacy, chairs the search committee that began work in July.
Peragallo Montano oversaw students and faculty during a critical time for health care in the state, as more than 300 nursing students received training to administer COVID-19 vaccinations at the Friday Center vaccination site as part of their undergraduate clinical experience. Students also performed COVID-19 tests at Carolina Together Testing Centers. More than 70 students pitched in at hospitals and clinics across North Carolina as those centers struggled to meet staffing demands brought on by the rapid influx of COVID-19 patients.
The school has ranked as the top public nursing program in the nation for the past three years by U.S. News & World Report and increased its master’s degree program rank from 17th to 6th during Peragallo Montano’s tenure. Among nursing schools worldwide, the program is ranked 7th in Shanghai Ranking’s Global Ranking of Academic Subjects and 8th in the QS Top Universities World Rankings of nursing schools. She has expanded and overhauled UNC’s program while at the helm, launching an adult gerontology acute care nurse practitioner certificate program and leading the school’s first curriculum redesign in 20 years. Peragallo Montano also planned the development and implementation of the school’s first strategic plan in more than a decade.
“She has been a critical part of the growth and success of the school,” the statement noted, calling Peragallo Montano “instrumental” in securing the largest private gift in the nursing school’s history — a $6.8 million donation from the Helene Fuld Health Trust to support the renewal of Carrington Hall and student financial aid.
Under Peragallo Montano’s leadership, “the school has bolstered undergraduate enrollment and increased diversity among its faculty and staff,” the University said, advancing the pioneering nursing program’s service to the state. UNC was the first institution in North Carolina to offer undergraduate (1950), master’s (1955) and doctoral (1989) degrees in nursing.
Research funding also increased during Peragallo Montano’s tenure, the University said. Among nursing schools, UNC ranks 8th in National Institutes of Health funding.
A nationally and internationally recognized nursing scientist who has specialized in health disparities and culturally competent interventions with minority populations, Peragallo Montano came to UNC after 13 years at the University of Miami, where she was dean and professor of its School of Nursing and Health Studies. She was also a professor on the graduate faculty at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile School of Nursing.
At Miami, she tripled enrollment, expanded the curriculum and increased the school’s research ranking. She was honored with the University of Miami’s President’s Medal in 2016.
From 2007 to 2015, she served as director and principal investigator of the Center of Excellence for Health Disparities Research: El Centro, a research initiative housed at the University of Miami that is focused on improving health equity among groups of Hispanic and African descent, sexual minorities and people in Caribbean and Latin American nations. El Centro, whose founding was spearheaded by Peragallo Montano, was the first P60 (Comprehensive Centers of Excellence) Grant awarded to a nursing school by the NIH/National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities. She is also co-principal investigator of El Centro, which has been funded continuously by the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities since its inception.
Peragallo Montano’s policy and leadership roles include past service on the NIH/NIMHD Advisory Council and as co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Health Project Workforce Committee. She is past president of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses and founding co-editor of Hispanic Healthcare International. In 2012, she was appointed to the National Advisory Committee for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Nurse Faculty Scholars Program and to the board of directors of IntraHealth International, a global health nonprofit organization that champions the role of health workers.
She was selected by Hispanic Business magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential Leaders of 2012. She has been honored with a number of regional awards for her contributions to the South Florida community, including the 2014 In the Company of Women Award, Miami-Dade County Commission for Women, Parks Foundation of Miami-Dade and Miami Dade Parks.
Prior to joining the University of Miami, she held positions at the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Nursing, the University of Illinois College of Nursing in Chicago and the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Peragallo Montano has mentored a number of Hispanic scientists who are now published authors and advancing in positions of leadership. She is an adjunct professor at Australian Catholic University Faculty of Health Sciences; a fellow of the American Academy of Nursing; a member of Sigma Theta Tau International, the honor society of nursing; and an inductee of the STTI Nurse Researcher Hall of Fame.
Peragallo Montano was awarded a Doctor Honoris Causa from Universidad Inca Garcilaso De La Vega in Lima, Peru, and was previously a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Nurse Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania.
Born in Chile, Peragallo Montano received a bachelor of science in nursing at the University of Chile before immigrating to the United States with her family. She earned a master of science in nursing from the University of West Virginia and a doctorate in public health from the University of Texas.
Following her retirement from UNC, she will assume the title dean emerita.